Jordan: Untouched myths block the road to full democracy  | May S, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Queen Rania, IAF, Black September
Jordan: Untouched myths block the road to full democracy Print
May S   
In Lebanon, it is largely the religious group that you belong to that identifies your political preferences. In neighbouring Syria, observers warn against a civil war between the different religions and different sects within these religions if the regime collapses. Again, this indicates how sectarianism is also shaping the political discourse.

Jordan: Untouched myths block the road to full democracy  | May S, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Queen Rania, IAF, Black September

Jordan is not an exception. While the entire Levant region was considered as a unified land prior to the Sikes-Picot agreement, the “divide and rule” doctrine had its toll on its political discourse in the second half of the 19th Century onwards, largely based on ethnical divisions.

However, chauvinistic voices that seek to further disenfranchise citizens and deprive them of their constitutional rights, irrespective of their identity, are relying on numerous myths that are cited to endorse their argument against fellow citizens. Very often, these voices are loud and present in the public sphere, while very few voices attempt to correct the inaccurate comparisons and distorted historical facts.
The following are some examples of the common stereotypes and myths that need to be shattered if Jordan ever wishes to break out of the “identity politics” that cannot safeguard its stability forever.

How Jordanians of Palestinian origins acquired citizenship
A common stereotype, held by chauvinistic people and others who lack the necessary knowledge on the topic, tends to believe that “Jordanians sympathized with Palestinians and granted them citizenship as a favour because they were homeless”.

This view ignores the fact that Jordanian citizenship was granted to every Arab who was living in the areas of Palestine that were under the rule of the Jordanian Arab Army in 1949, with the exception of Jews. In 1950, those areas, which came to be known as the West Bank, and the East Bank of River Jordan formed one country and fell under the rule of one regime and one parliament.

Jordan: Untouched myths block the road to full democracy  | May S, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Queen Rania, IAF, Black September
Jordan's King Abdullah II with his wife Queen Rania. Photograph: Yousef Allan/AP
The decision of unity came as a result of the vision of King Abdullah I, the founder of the Kingdom, to achieve Arab unity under Hashemite rule and unity with the West Bank was considered as a starting point. A prominent Jordanian lawyer, who studied the issue thoroughly, affirmed that not even a single Palestinian applied for Jordanian citizenship. It was granted to these people by default as Jordan believed in unity at the time and amended the Nationality Law at a later stage to adjust to the changes. According to this narrative, which is documented and known for lawyers and rational politicians, Jordanians of Palestinian descent are citizens with full rights and duties and not “transit passengers” who were granted citizenship as a “gift”.

Based on these facts, dismissing the advocacy for equal political rights for everyone and saying that “if Jordanians of Palestinian origins interfere in political affairs, then Egyptian labourers or foreign investors may also want to interfere” are complete nonsense as the first group are citizens while the others are “expats”.

From this perspective, a comparison between the refugees in Syria and Lebanon and others in Jordan is unacceptable. Refugees do not hold citizenship status and this is not the case of citizens of Palestinian descent.

A religious leader based in Jerusalem has recently addressed Jordanians of Palestinian descent in Jordan and asked them “not to interfere in Jordanian affairs and reform process”. He reminded them that they live in better conditions when compared to refugees in Syria and Lebanon. The religious leader seems to fall in the same trap and ignores the fact that they are full “citizens” whereas they have not been granted this status in the other countries. Asking them to keep away from politics is negating their constitutional rights.

Black September perceived as a ‘civil war’
The fact that events known as ‘Black September’ have never been documented in an impartial unbiased manner has contributed to the crisis. In fact, students never get to know what happened in 1970 and are exposed to biased interpretations that further awaken grudges and hatred. The so-called ‘civil war’ does not appear in our curriculums and our media in an unbiased manner and we only get to hear about it in the statements and discourses of chauvinistic people who refer to it as a ‘civil war’, when facts indicate it was not as such.

In 1970, the Jordanian army was comprised of ‘East bankers’ and others of ‘Palestinian descent’ and the Fedayieeh were also composed of member of different creeds. This means that it could not have been a civil war but rather a confrontation between two ideologies and people who wanted the monarchy and others who preferred another form of regime.

Today, many chauvinistic views depict “Palestinians” as “traitors”, because of their “attempt to overthrow the regime in 1970”. This view is largely mistaken because the confrontation was not between “Jordanians and Palestinians”. Saying so is neglecting the political ideologies that prevailed at the time.
Based on this distorted narrative, many of these people oppose re-integrating Jordanians of Palestinian origins in the security forces and the army, claiming that they cannot “trust these people”. This belief prevents Jordan from achieving full equality.

Allocating each ethnicity a sector creates the ‘balance’
Generally speaking, Jordanians of Palestinian origins are allowed to start businesses freely and dominate the private sector while East bankers dominate the public sector, the army and the security forces. This so-called ‘balance’ has been perceived by many as a recipe of stability in the country, while in reality, it only deepens the rift and the identity crisis.
Citizens who pay taxes and perform all of their duties as citizens should have fair representation. They should not be treated as an “ethnic bloc”. The private sector does not create the “allegiance” that these same forces believe “Palestinians” lack and the political logic stipulates that a taxpayer gets to know where his/her tax is spent and is entitled to have a say in his/her country’s affairs. Thus, the distinction between economic and political rights does not make sense to a ‘citizen’ who pays taxes and abides by the country’s rules and regulations.

The dual allegiance is an obstacle
If you ask Jordanians of Palestinian origins about their homeland, they are likely to mention both “Jordan and Palestine” or in some cases only one of these countries. This is attributed to the several historical factors that have shaped the identity of the two states and the historical relations and geographic proximity.

Chauvinistic forces do not accept this “dual allegiance” and force people to choose between two equally important components of their identity in order to practice political rights. It is surprising that Circassians, for example, are not forced to make this “tough decision” and they freely declare allegiance to both their Jordanian and Circassian roots and identity.

Tribalism and allegiance to the country are used interchangeably
Being a member of a tribe is one thing and having a blind allegiance that supersedes allegiance to the country at large, commonly referred to as ‘tribalism’ is a totally different one. The problem is exacerbated when ‘tribalism’ and allegiance to the country are used interchangeably and when the two concepts are believed to be interconnected, while they are actually contradictory.
If you are blinded by ‘tribalism’, it means you are not loyal enough to the country because you are harming national interests. Thus, it becomes nonsense if you claim that you are ‘too loyal’ and cite the fact that ‘you belong to tribe X’ and cherish ‘the tribal values and the tribalism’ that characterize the Jordanian society.

A former Jordanian official employed his relatives in the municipality that he headed, paid from the public money. They did not actually work at the municipality and only showed up at the end of the month to receive their salaries. This Jordanian official, who resembles many other officials, probably thinks he is serving his tribe and would defend his loyalty to Jordan by proudly declaring he belongs to this tribe. However, he is harming the very same country when he abuses his power and uses public money for his interests.

Selective response and selective identification of threats
When the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, was attacked by opponents and its headquarters were attacked a few weeks ago, it was reportedly threatening to form ‘militias’ to protect members, as the state allegedly does not do enough to protect them.
The statement is undoubtedly condemned, regardless of the source. However, another group of so-called ‘loyalists’, who were fed up with demonstrations and protests calling for reform, staged a sit-in and declared that they were ‘ready to form tribal militias’ and ‘help the state revoke the citizenship of those protestors’. This insult was happening in front of policemen who were there thanking the group for their ‘loyalty’.

It is not clear why the IAF’s militias were seen as a threat and infuriated public opinion and members of the Parliament, while the ‘tribal militias’ were accepted by the police forces. How does one group threaten “public security” while the other one “preserves it”? It also shows how easy it can be to tamper with “citizenship” and threaten to revoke it at any time, when this is clearly unconstitutional.
These are just a few examples of common myths and stereotypes that continue to plague national debate. As long as they are not addressed in our curriculums and media, a true reform will remain a fantasy!

May S